Culture and Mental Illness

Psychopathology is the study of mental illness and distress. There are various symptoms of mental illness and all of them include engaging in abnormal behavior. Psychopathology is related to psychiatry because of its involvement in the assessment of experiences and behavior manifestation of individuals suspected of suffering from mental illnesses. Clinical psychologists are mainly interested in this field. As a result, they are often involved in research into the origin, development, and manifestation of behaviors related to the mental disorder.

They are therefore involved in descriptive psychology. Culture defines a person by using a set of values with which s/he is expected to conform all the time. Any slight but prolonged deviation from the norms can generally be considered by society as a sign of insanity of a certain degree. Culture identifies behaviors such as hallucinations and delusion as diagnostic of mental disturbances (Ware, 2002, p. 132). According to clinical psychologists, any behavior likely to result in disability or distress as a result of neuro-cognitive breakdown is a pointer to mental illness. One of the most common and worrying disorders is schizophrenia.

As a disorder of the brain, Schizophrenia often affects the actions of an individual. In addition, the perception of a schizophrenic about the world is also different from that of a non-schizophrenic. They hallucinate, are paranoid, and react overly conscious of themselves. People with schizophrenia often withdraw from social support systems and act in fear and confusion (Andreasen, 1999, p. 647). Although schizophrenia is termed as a chronic disorder, nonetheless advances in medicine have now ensured that this disorder becomes quite manageable through a combination of therapy and medication.

All these factors have a bearing on an individual’s relationship and day-to-day functioning. With timely treatment and adequate support, schizophrenic persons can still lead productive lives. The problem is that schizophrenia is compounded further by neo-liberalized lifestyles. Today our societies have accepted and tolerated many ideas and ideologies including those that do not normalcy. Lately, civilization is epitomized by cultural practices that exaggerate the principles of human rights and in so-called modernity. Even the diseases that agonize people who are oblivious of their cure and control methods are rationalized as part of our changing lifestyles and transforming culture. Past studies indicate the U.S. is one of the leading places with cases of people with mental disorders.

The reason for this score in statistics can be attributed to the Americans’ attitude toward what life means to the majority of its populace. The citizens particularly the youth who are prone to schizophrenia at adolescence are glued to their televisions often watching programs that reflect their desires and capture their interests according to how they imagine their lives should be. If some are caught with this malady (schizophrenia), in their modern culture they are fast to rationalize that their patients are merely imitating what they saw on TV for fun and soon enough may just get over it. Thus it becomes extremely difficult to notice a person suffering from this chronic disease at early stages. This prevails even amid early signs being clear in a person (Andreasen, 1999, p. 648). The early signs for Schizophrenia include eccentricity, lack of motivation and moodiness, emotionlessness, reclusive, isolation, self negligence, people begin to say weird things, become nonresponsive, abandon their hobbies and familiar interests, and their performance at school or work begins to deteriorate. These signs are soon followed by symptoms of the disease listed as delusion, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized behavior, disorganized speech. They vary from person to person and from culture to culture depending on a person’s genes the environment and upbringing from birth. Most cultural beliefs about schizophrenia and other mental illnesses are like a set of myths and useless opinions which only contribute to the stigmatization and marginalization of lifelong illnesses.

For example, the US culture has comfortably embraced schizophrenia as split personality or multiple personalities- Which is not true. The reason behind this is that there are not many individuals that have been diagnosed with split personalities as there are schizophrenics. Rather it is them that are split-off from reality by their imaginary perception of the world. Others are riding on the notion that people with schizophrenia cannot help. The truth is that with timely treatment, proper control, and adequate support the patients can get back to their normal functioning and live equally productive lives (Johnson & Cummings, 1997, p. 8).

In terms of cross-cultural analysis mental indicators include psychological distress, role limitation, and withdrawal from social support systems as the main abnormal behaviors of schizophrenics. Social support systems matter to every person whether young or old because of the inert characteristics of human beings; they always need to love and to be loved and to be cared for just as they will also offer care to other people. The moment a person begins to embrace seclusion for long periods then it raises concern over their thought process. As such it is known from that point that something is amiss in the person’s new mannerism. This is often accompanied by excessive drinking of alcohol, hyperactivity, and addiction to drugs (World Health Organization, 2000, p. 135). There are also additional symptoms of schizophrenic and these include confused thinking, hearing unreal voices, forgetfulness, inability to relate well with either friends or peers, and unusual ideas and thoughts. While causes of schizophrenia remain unknown, it often begins in adolescence and leads to psychological deterioration in adulthood (Kim, 2009, p. 150). Nonetheless, environmental and genetic factors are thought to contribute in a big way towards the development of schizophrenic symptoms in an individual. The main part of the brain which is usually involved in this negative response is the prefrontal cortex. During this period individuals are thought to be faced with psychological stress. This stress acts to stimulate the neural system, in effect enabling it to withstand impacts of psychological tension for longer. That’s why it takes longer to notice a schizophrenic early enough. At complex stages of his chronic illness, the involved individual becomes increasingly suicidal. Schizophrenics generally have a high predisposition to suicide.

Although the actual causes of schizophrenia are yet to be determined, nonetheless, there is compelling evidence from several studies in this disorder that appear to suggest that both the environmental and genetic factors could lead to this mental disorder, in combination. In addition, the brain ventricles of some individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia appear quite enlarged in comparison with their counterparts that are not schizophrenics. This is indicative of deficient brain tissue. The frontal lobe of the brain of a schizophrenic has also been observed to be exceedingly low in terms of activity. This is the part of the brain involved in reasoning and decision-making. Despite all these revelations schizophrenia is caused by a complex interaction of problems from different parts of the brain (Kim, 2009, p. 150).


Andreasen, N. C. (1999). Understanding the causes of schizophrenia. The New England Journal of Medicine, 340 (8): 645-647).Web.

Kim, Y. (2009). Schizophrenia. SciTopics. Web.

Johnson, J., & Cummings, J. (1997). Behavioural Health in Primary Care: A Guide for Clinical Integration. Ed. Cummings. USA: Madison. CT: International Press.

Ware, J. (2002). Conceptualization and Measurement of Health-Related Quality of Life. New York: Routledge

World Health Organization. (2001). International Classification of functioning, Disability and Health. Geneva: World Health Organization.

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